Opening Bell: 12.01.09 - Dealbreaker

Opening Bell: 12.01.09

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Arming Goldman With Pistols Against Public (Bloomberg)
Alice Schroeder on Goldman employees packing heat: "I just wrote my first reference for a gun permit," said a friend, who told me of swearing to the good character of a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker who applied to the local police for a permit to buy a pistol. The banker had told this friend of mine that senior Goldman people have loaded up on firearms and are now equipped to defend themselves if there is a populist uprising against the bank.
Somali sea gangs lure investors at pirate lair (Reuters)
"Four months ago, during the monsoon rains, we decided to set up this stock exchange. We started with 15 'maritime companies' and now we are hosting 72. Ten of them have so far been successful at hijacking," a wealthy former pirate named Mohammed said. "The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials ... we've made piracy a community activity."
Arrest Imminent In Florida Ponzi Case (Reuters)
Scott Rothstein is expected to be cuffed today.
WaMu The Bank Is Gone, But The Parent Fights On (WSJ)
A federal bankruptcy judge is expected to rule soon on who owns about $4 billion claimed by both J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., which bought the doomed financial institution from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and the Seattle thrift's holding company, Washington Mutual Inc.
SEC Watchdog Eyes Insider Trading Probe (NYT)
Inspector General David Kotz's office said it is looking at a complaint that SEC staff had access to specific evidence that insider trading had occurred prior to staff closing the investigation, and whether the enforcement staff "committed acts of negligence."

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Opening Bell: 9.6.18

White House coming apart at the seams; Unemployment bottoms out; Chaos rules; A very bad day at the beach; and more!

Opening Bell: 04.11.13

J.P. Morgan Takes Goldman's Spot In Corporate-Governance Hot Seat (WSJ) Mr. Dimon's shareholder letter lacked the feisty tone of years past, when he often warned about the unintended consequences of a wave of new regulation of the U.S. banking industry. This year, Mr. Dimon instead said, "I feel terrible we let our regulators down" and pledged to make the firm's compliance with all regulatory obligations a priority. "We are re-prioritizing our major projects and initiatives" and "deploying massive new resources" to the effort, he wrote. The firm is dropping work on a litany of new projects, such as a redesign of its Chase.com web site, so it can focus on the new firm-wide controls, said a person close to the bank. Mr. Dimon also warned that he expects more regulatory slaps in the "coming months." Goldman Deal With Union Lets Blankfein Keep Dual Roles (NYP) CtW Investment Group, an adviser to union pension funds with $250 billion of assets, agreed to withdraw its proxy proposal seeking a split of the chairman and CEO roles after the company agreed to give Goldman’s lead director, James Schiro, new powers such as setting board agendas and writing his own annual letter to shareholders. Fed's Flub Sparks Data Concerns (WSJ) The Fed said Wednesday that a staff member in its congressional liaison office accidentally released minutes of a March 19-20 policy meeting Tuesday afternoon to many of his contacts, including Washington representatives at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Barclays Capital, Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc. and UBS AG. Also among the recipients: King Street Capital Management, a hedge fund, and Carlyle Group, a private-equity firm. Officials at the Fed didn't notice the mistake until about 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, after which they scrambled to release the information to the wider public, which was done at 9 a.m. A Fed spokesman said: "Every indication is that [the release] was entirely accidental." While there has been no obvious sign of early trading on the Fed's minutes, the flub comes at a delicate moment and raises questions about how the central bank handles sensitive information. Fed officials are currently debating when to begin winding down an $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program, a decision that is likely to have immense market impact. Market participants eagerly await the meeting minutes, which are released every six weeks, for insight into Fed thinking about the program. Plosser pitches his plan for a post-crisis Fed (Reuters) Plosser, an outspoken policy hawk and longtime critic of the bond-buying, said the Fed would be wise to begin swapping maturing longer-term assets with shorter-term ones, aiming to hold only Treasury bonds and not the mortgage bonds it is now buying. Regulators Feeling 'Social' Pressure (WSJ) The SEC issued guidance last year saying a third party's use of the "like" button could be viewed as a testimonial and suggested investment-advisory firms consider requiring preclearance before posting on social-media sites. SEC staff are currently working on additional guidance to provide more clarity about how to use social media without violating advertising rules, but the agency is unlikely to soften its prohibition against advisers using testimonials, according to the person familiar with the matter. An SEC spokesman declined to comment. Carnival Offers Motel 6 Price for Caribbean After Triumph (Bloomberg) Carnival Corp is offering a Caribbean cruise for as little as $38 a night, less than a stay at Motel 6, after an engine fire on the Triumph stranded passengers at sea for several days. A four-night trip on Carnival’s Imagination, leaving Miami on April 22, costs $149 a person, including meals and some beverages, according to the cruise company’s website yesterday. The lowest nightly rate at the budget-priced Motel 6 chain was $39.99, according to an online ad. Carnival, based in Miami, generated headlines worldwide in February after the engine fire on the Triumph left 3,100 passengers at sea for several days with limited food and toilet service. The ship broke loose from its moorings in high winds last week in Mobile, Alabama, where it is being repaired. Cyprus Central Bank Denies Plan to Sell Gold (CNBC) The Central Bank of Cyprus denied that it will sell 400 million euros ($525 million) worth of its gold reserves as part of the conditions to Europe's bailout of the island state. Aliki Stylianou, a spokesperson at the central bank told CNBC on Thursday that there was "no such thing being discussed." Jobless Claims In US Plunged More Than Forecast Last Week (Bloomberg) Jobless claims decreased by 42,000 to 346,000 in the week ended April 6, from a revised 388,000, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 49 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a drop to 360,000. A Labor Department official said no states were estimated and there was nothing unusual in the data. Citadel’s Credit Co-Head Jamey Thompson Quits Hedge Fund (Bloomberg) Thompson became one of the three co-heads of Citadel’s credit group in September, when the hedge fund merged its quantitative credit and convertible-bond teams. He started at Citadel in 2008 as a credit portfolio manager and had previously worked at New York-based hedge fund King Street Capital Management LP. $100,000 worth of burgers stolen in Linden, NJ (MCJ) Capt. James Sarnicki said police responded Tuesday to BMG Logistics, a shipping yard at 720 W. Edgar Road, for a report of a shipping container theft. The owner told police that sometime between 8 p.m. April 8 and 10 a.m. April 9, someone stole a 40-foot-long refrigerated shipping container from the lot containing $100,000 worth of hamburger patties bound for the Netherlands. Detective Frank Leporino said the burgers had been shipped from Kansas City, Mo., and brought to the warehouse and shipping yard before being loaded onto a container Monday. The container was stored in a 2006 trailer with a California license plate 4HR1817. The burger patties were stored in 3,000 cartons. Police have surveillance video footage of the tractor hooked up to the trailer going out of the shipping yard at about 10:33 p.m. Monday.

Opening Bell: 04.22.13

Bill Gross Attacks UK and Euro Zone Austerity (FT) Bill Gross, manager of the world's largest bond fund for Pimco, has launched a stinging attack on efforts by Britain and much of the euro zone to cut debt rapidly with severe austerity measures, warning that such action risks stifling recovery. "The U.K. and almost all of Europe have erred in terms of believing that austerity, fiscal austerity in the short term, is the way to produce real growth. It is not," Mr Gross told the Financial Times. "You've got to spend money." Argentina's New Debt Offer Rejected by Holdout Creditors (WSJ) Holdout creditors on Friday rejected Argentina's proposal to pay them about 20 cents on every U.S. dollar of bonds they own, leaving a U.S. appeals court to decide how to enforce a ruling that may push Argentina into a new default. "Not only are the details of Argentina's proposal unacceptable and unresponsive; Argentina fails even to provide this court with meaningful 'assurances' that it will actually comply with its own proposal," said Theodore Olson, a lawyer for the holdouts, in a brief filed Friday. Argentina's own math values the offer at $210 million, less than 15% of the $1.47 billion that holdouts were owed on their defaulted bonds as of March 1, according to the brief. Hedge Fund Stars Suit Up At Yankee Stadium To Attract Investors (NYP) Hedge-fund mogul Stevie Cohen will be pitching at Yankee Stadium tomorrow. No, the 56-year-old billionaire is not suiting up for the Bronx Bombers — but he will be hoping the magic of the House that Ruth Built will yield some investment cash. Cohen, whose SAC Capital faces a loss of $1.7 billion from investors who want out of his $15 billion hedge fund, is one of about 70 hedge fund managers who’ll be at the Stadium tomorrow making a pitch to prospective new investors at a day-long event sponsored by Goldman Sachs. Singapore Will Replace Switzerland As Wealth Capital (CNBC) Switzerland has $2.8 trillion in assets under management, with $2.1 trillion of that coming from offshore wealth. Switzerland accounts for 34 percent of the $8.15 trillion in total global wealth. Yet the report said Singapore could overtake Switzerland in offshore assets under management by 2020. It said Swiss offshore assets could fall below $2 trillion by 2016, while Singapore's assets could more than quadruple by then. Somali Banking Starts From Ground Up (WSJ) Abdusalam Omer is a central bank governor without much to govern. The Central Bank of Somalia doesn't hold reserves in the country's currency, the shilling. There are no functioning commercial banks in the strife-torn country for it to regulate. The 75-strong staff that still turns up for work after two decades of civil war is a motley crew of money men and handymen. "I don't know why the central bank employs painters," says the 58-year-old who was named the country's top banker in January. Eventbrite Funding Slows Its IPO Chase (WSJ) Eventbrite Inc., an event ticketing company, has raised $60 million from two investors, making it the latest example of a startup to raise significant private late-stage funding that puts off an initial public offering. San Francisco-based Eventbrite had sparked expectations of an imminent IPO when it said earlier this month that it hired a chief financial officer, Mark Rubash, who previously worked at Yahoo Inc. and eBay Inc. Instead, it joins a growing number of companies that have found plentiful funding in the private markets rather than going public at an early stage. The company has raised the new cash from mutual-fund firm T. Rowe Price Group Inc. and Tiger Global Management LLC, an investment-management firm, said Kevin Hartz, co-founder and chief executive. That brings its total private fundraising to some $135 million since its inception in 2006. "This gives us flexibility in setting the timeline for a later IPO, on our schedule," said Mr. Hartz. Deutsche Bank Margin Call on Vik Sparks $2.5 Billion Dispute (Bloomberg) Alexander Vik went to Deutsche Bank AG’s London office in October 2008 to meet account managers who congratulated the Norwegian entrepreneur on how well his Sebastian Holdings Inc. investment fund was doing. Within a month, as global markets tumbled into crisis, the same bankers demanded about $530 million against the fund’s currency bets and began to liquidate its positions. Vik, 58, will argue at a 12-week trial starting in London today that the bank’s actions resulted in losses and missed profits totaling about $2.5 billion. A judge will have to decide whether Sebastian’s calculation of lost trading gains is accurate, said John Day, a lawyer at London-based litigation firm DaySparkes. Zimbabwe Prepares Law to Seize Company Stakes Without Paying (Bloomberg) Zimbabwe’s government is preparing a law that would allow it to seize controlling stakes in companies without compensation, according to a draft of the legislation obtained by Bloomberg News. The law would be an amendment to a 2007 act that compels foreign and white-owned companies such as Rio Tinto Group, Sinosteel Corp. and Impala Platinum Holding Ltd. to sell or cede 51 percent of their shares to black nationalsor state-approved agencies.

Opening Bell: 03.13.13

Ackman Applauds Call For Herbalife Investigation (AP) The National Consumers League said that it wants the FTC to investigate the claims against Herbalife as well as the vitamin and supplement products company's responses. Ackman alleged in December that Herbalife was a pyramid scheme and made a bet the stock would fall, arguing that the company makes most of its money by recruiting new salespeople rather than on the products they sell. Herbalife disputes that. In a statement late Tuesday, Pershing Square Capital Management's Ackman said that he was pleased that the NCL was requesting an FTC investigation and believes it will show that the company is a pyramid scheme. On Wednesday, Herbalife said in a statement that "We regret that the National Consumers League has permitted itself to be the mechanism by which Pershing Square continues its attack on Herbalife." Troika, Cyprus In Talks To Shrink Bailout Package (WSJ) Officials from the troika of lenders—the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund—are working with the Cypriot government to bring the headline figure for the bailout package to about €10 billion ($13.03 billion), two officials said. The aid package had been earlier expected to be as much as €17 billion—with just shy €10 billion of that going for bank recapitalizations. Big Sugar Set For Sweet Bailout (WSJ) The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering buying 400,000 tons of sugar—enough for 142 billion Hershey's Kisses—to stave off a wave of defaults by sugar processors that borrowed $862 million under a government price-support program. The action aims to prop up tumbling U.S. sugar prices, which have fallen 18% since the USDA made the nine-month operations-financing loans beginning in October. The purchases could leave the price-support program with an $80 million loss, its biggest in 13 years, said Barbara Fecso, an economist at the USDA, in an interview. U.S. Tax Cheats Picked Off After Adviser Mails It In (Bloomberg) Everybody knows the danger of sending things inadvertently in an e-mail. Beda Singenberger’s case shows you also have to be pretty careful when you mail things the old-fashioned way. Over an 11-year period, federal prosecutors charge, Swiss financial adviser Singenberger helped 60 people in the U.S. hide $184 million in secret offshore accounts bearing colorful names like Real Cool Investments Ltd. and Wanderlust Foundation. Then, according to a prosecutor, Singenberger inadvertently mailed a list of his U.S. clients, including their names and incriminating details, which somehow wound up in the hands of federal authorities. Now, U.S. authorities appear to be picking off the clients on that list one by one. Singenberger’s goof has already ensnared Jacques Wajsfelner, an 83-year-old exile from Nazi Germany, and Michael Canale, a retired U.S. Army surgeon, court records show. Another customer, cancer researcher Michael Reiss, pleaded guilty, though his court records don’t mention the list. White Pressed On Past Representing Banks (WSJ) Since 2002, President Barack Obama's pick to become chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission has worked for the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLC, where she often represented large corporations and banks. Members of the Senate Banking Committee, often from the president's own party, pressed her to guarantee that her law-firm work wouldn't stop her from taking on Wall Street's wrongdoers. "What have you done [in] the last decade that ordinary investors can look at and be assured that you will advocate for them?" Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) asked Ms. White. Wearing a bright red jacket, her hands neatly folded on the table before her, Ms. White said her work at Debevoise "hasn't changed me as a person." Killer Ukrainian dolphins on the loose (JustinGregg) After rebooting the Soviet Union’s marine mammal program just last year with the goal of teaching dolphins to find underwater mines and kill enemy divers, three of the Ukrainian military’s new recruits have gone AWOL. Apparently they swam away from their trainers this morning ostensibly in search of a “mate” out in open waters. It might not be such a big deal except that these dolphins have been trained to “attack enemy combat swimmers using special knives or pistols fixed to their heads.” Dimon’s Extra $1.4 Million Payout Hangs on Fed Decision (Bloomberg) That’s how much extra income Dimon could get from his stake of about 6 million shares if his New York-based bank raises its payout as much as analysts predict. The sum dwarfs the combined $73,300 of new annual dividends at stake for his CEO peers at Bank of America Corp., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co., based on forecasts compiled by Bloomberg. Bankers will find out whether they get any boost tomorrow when the Fed announces which capital plans at the 18 largest U.S. lenders won approval. Regulators have pressed firms since the 2008 credit crisis to give executives more stock and less cash to align their interests with those of shareholders. CEOs are poised to get a windfall if payouts increase and shares rise -- or to suffer with their investors if results sputter. BofA Ordered to Pay Ex-Merrill Banker Jailed in Brazil (Bloomberg) Sao Paulo’s 26th labor court said it was “incontrovertible” that the imprisonment was because of his position as a junior financial consultant at Merrill Lynch, now a division of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America, according to a document published in the nation’s official Gazette earlier this month. Caiado wasn’t convicted of any wrongdoing. Caiado, 42, was jailed in June 2006 in a Curitiba federal prison over allegations he helped Merrill’s clients make illegal overseas money transfers. His arrest was part of an investigation that resulted in indictments of 18 bankers at Credit Suisse AG and UBS AG in Brazil. Merrill fired Caiado nine months later, saying the dismissal was part of a restructuring. Carlyle Group Lowers Velvet Rope (WSJ) In the latest effort by private-equity firms to broaden their customer base, Carlyle Group is letting some people invest in its buyout funds with as little as $50,000. The move comes as other large firms—known for offering exclusivity to big-money clients—have broadened their investment offerings in search of fresh sources of funds. KKR, for example, recently began offering mutual funds investing in bonds, with minimum investments set at $2,500. Blackstone Group launched a fund last year that for the first time lets affluent individuals invest in hedge funds and has told regulators it plans to offer another fund, though it hasn't disclosed many details about the forthcoming offering. Greenland Votes for Tougher Rules for Foreign Investors (WSJ) Voters in Greenland have elected a new ruling party that has pledged to toughen up on foreign investors looking to take advantage of the nation's wealth of natural resources. The Social Democratic Siumut party collected 43% of the votes in an election held Tuesday, enabling the party to leapfrog the ruling Inuit Ataqatigiit, which over the past four years has worked to open up the secluded country to mining companies and others capable of advancing industry. Greenland is believed to have a vast supply of untapped rare-earth minerals, oil, gas and other resources. Blankfein On Trader Talent Hunt At Morgan Stanley (NYP) The Goldman Sachs CEO is taking dead aim at Morgan Stanley’s most prized assets — its best and brightest employees — after his rival decided to defer pay for senior bankers. Blankfein, as a big game hunter, recently landed 13-year Morgan Stanley veteran Kate Richdale, head of its Asia Pacific investment banking business. The CEO’s talent hunt is continuing, sources said. Goldman currently is in selective talks with other Morgan Stanley bankers and has also lured a handful of traders from the bank. Golfer Survives Fall Into Course Sinkhole (AP) Mark Mihal was having a good opening day on the links when he noticed an unusual depression on the 14th fairway at Annbriar Golf Club in southern Illinois. Remarking to his friends how awkward it would be to have to hit out of it, he went over for a closer look. One step onto the pocked section and the 43-year-old mortgage broker plunged into a sinkhole. He landed 18 feet down with a painful thud, and his friends managed to hoist him to safety with a rope after about 20 minutes. But Friday's experience gave Mihal quite a fright, particularly after the recent death of a Florida man whose body hasn't been found since a sinkhole swallowed him and his bedroom. "I feel lucky just to come out of it with a shoulder injury, falling that far and not knowing what I was going to hit," Mihal, from the St. Louis suburb of Creve Coeur, told The Associated Press before heading off to learn whether he'll need surgery. "It was absolutely crazy."

Opening Bell: 2.18.16

Bank stock-rout hits bonuses; Derek Jeter invests in whistleblower app; Ray Dalio says expect lower returns, higher risk; Hookers 4 Hillary Offers 'Extras' To Nevada Clinton Supporters; and more.

Opening Bell: 01.17.13

Charges Weigh On Bank Of America's Profit (WSJ) Overall, Bank of America reported a profit of $732 million versus a profit of $1.99 billion a year earlier. On a per-share basis, which includes the payment of preferred dividends, the bank reported earnings of three cents versus 15 cents a year earlier. The most recent period included a per-share impact of 16 cents from the Fannie Mae settlement, a six cent impact from the foreclosure review and litigation expense of five cents a share, among other items. Revenue dropped 25% to $18.66 billion as noninterest income fell 41%. Excluding $700 million of debit valuation and fair value option adjustments, and $3 billion for the cost of $3 billion, revenue was $22.6 billion. Citigroup Earnings Miss Analysts’ Estimates on Litigation (Bloomberg) Net income climbed 25 percent to $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter, or 38 cents a share, from $956 million, or 31 cents, a year earlier, the New York-based lender said today in a statement. Earnings adjusted for one-time items including restructuring costs were 69 cents a share. Twenty-one analysts surveyed by Bloomberg estimated 96 cents on average, with some items Citigroup didn’t include. Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat, 52, took over in October and last month announced plans to eliminate about 11,000 employees and pull back from some emerging markets, undoing part of the expansion strategy of his predecessor, Vikram Pandit. Litigation costs included $305 million from a settlement between U.S. banks and federal regulators, who were probing claims that lenders improperly seized homes. Goldman Profits By Going On Offensive (WSJ) The value of Goldman Sachs's investment portfolio doubled last year. Bond underwriting hit a five-year high. The firm's workforce shrank and remaining employees were paid a smaller chunk of overall revenue. Those were just some of the ingredients in a bigger-than-expected profit jump by the New York company, which said net income almost tripled to $2.83 billion in the fourth quarter from $1.01 billion a year earlier. Wednesday's results were packed with evidence of Goldman's discipline in cutting costs, taking less risk with its own money and riding out financial crises in the U.S. and then Europe. Goldman Agonized Over Pay Cuts as Profits Suffered (Reuters) Top executives at Goldman Sachs have been considering deep cuts to staffing levels and pay for at least two years, but feared too many layoffs would leave the firm unprepared for an eventual pickup in business, people familiar with the bank said. They instead chipped away at staff levels and focused on non-personnel expenses that are less painful to cut. But investors pressured the bank to cut costs further, the sources said, and on Wednesday, Goldman gave in. The largest standalone investment bank said in the fourth quarter it cut the percentage of revenues it pays to employees in half to 21 percent. That brings the ratio for the entire year to its second-lowest level since the bank went public in 1999. Fed Concerned About Overheated Markets Amid Record Bond-Buying (Bloomberg) Now, as central bankers boost their stimulus with additional bond purchases, policy makers from Chairman Ben S. Bernanke to Kansas City Fed President Esther George are on the lookout for financial distortions that may reverse abruptly when the Fed stops adding to its portfolio and eventually shrinks it. “Prices of assets such as bonds, agricultural land, and high-yield and leveraged loans are at historically high levels,” George said in a speech last week. “We must not ignore the possibility that the low-interest rate policy may be creating incentives that lead to future financial imbalances.” Estonian president’s Twitter fight with Paul Krugman becomes an opera (RS) A Twitter feud in June between the Estonian president and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman who questioned the impact of Estonia’s austerity measures, is being turned into an opera, US composer Eugene Birman told AFP on Wednesday. “Our short opera will be first performed by Iris Oja and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra conducted by Risto Joost during Tallinn Music Week on April 7,” Birman, who moved from Riga to the US at age of six, told AFP. The piece, in two movements, uses two voices, those of Krugman and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, reflecting their exchanges on the Twitter social network...The bow-tie loving Ilves went on a tweet-rant after Krugman, the winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Economics, argued in a short article entitled “Estonian Rhapsody” that while Estonia had been globally praised for its austerity measures, its recovery was in fact lukewarm. “Let’s write about something we know nothing about & be smug, overbearing & patronizing…Guess a Nobel in trade means you can pontificate on fiscal matters & declare my country a ‘wasteland,’” Ilves responded on his page on the on the micro-blogging site Twitter. “But yes, what do we know? We’re just dumb and silly East Europeans,” he added, before writing in his final tweet, “Let’s sh*t on East Europeans.” Deutsche Bank Derivative Helped Monte Paschi Mask Losses (Bloomberg) Deutsche Bank designed a derivative for Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA at the height of the financial crisis that obscured losses at the world’s oldest lender before it sought a taxpayer bailout. Germany’s largest bank loaned Monte Paschi about 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion) in December 2008 through the transaction, dubbed Project Santorini, according to more than 70 pages of documents outlining the deal and obtained by Bloomberg News. The trade helped Monte Paschi mitigate a 367 million-euro loss from an older derivative contract with Deutsche Bank. As part of the arrangement, the Italian lender made a losing bet on the value of the country’s government bonds, said six derivatives specialists who reviewed the files. BlackRock Net Jumps 24% (WSJ) The company said net inflows in long-term products totaled $47 billion at the year's end, reflecting equity, fixed income and multiasset class product net inflows of $31.2 billion, $12.4 billion and $4.1 billion, respectively. The net inflows were partially offset by alternatives net outflows of $700 million. Total assets under management were $3.792 trillion as of the end of the fourth quarter, versus $3.513 trillion a year earlier and $3.673 trillion in the third quarter. Jobless Claims Drop To 5-Year Low (Reuters) Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 335,000, the lowest level since January 2008, the Labor Department said on Thursday. It was the largest weekly drop since February 2010. Khuzami defends corp. settlements (NYP) Robert Khuzami, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement chief, is on his way out the door — but he says in an interview with The Post that the agency’s much-maligned practice of settling cases is here to stay. Khuzami, 56, defended the SEC’s policy of allowing targets to settle cases — usually without an admission of wrongdoing — despite recent criticism. “There are certain myths about SEC practices, including how ‘neither admit nor deny’ works and why we use it,” said Khuzami, who is leaving his post after heading the agency’s crackdown on big banks following the financial crisis. “I speak out against these myths in the hope of reducing the level of cynicism felt by the public, which are often fueled by mischaracterizations or misunderstandings of how we operate.” Commissioners approve regulations governing sexy coffee stands (Kitsap Sun) Owners of adult-themed coffee stands in unincorporated Kitsap County will have to post signs warning would-be customers about their scantily-clad baristas, and they'll have to do more to protect passers-by from seeing into their businesses. That's according to an ordinance passed Monday in a unanimous vote of the Kitsap County commissioners. The stands have 60 days to comply with the changes, which include a site visit by county planning staff to check the signs are posted and additional screening is added...The ordinance requires adult espresso stands — the three existing stands and any new ones — to install an 8-foot-high fence or landscape buffer, approved by the county Department of Community Development, in front of windows that face the street or other businesses, blocking views by the public. Businesses also must receive a one-time certification from DCD to guarantee the regulations are met. A boiling point was hit more than a year ago when five stands — three of them within a half-mile stretch of Highway 303 — advertised employees in pasties and lingerie. Unhappy parents demanded commissioners regulate the businesses. The health department doesn't require clothing, instead it looks at whether employees have food handler permits, said Department of Community Development associate planner Heather Adams. The state Department of Labor and Industries also has no rules dictating required clothing at coffee stands, Adams said.